Writing for Children without Writing about Children


During the recent national SCBWI Conference in Sydney, I heard a quote which stuck in my mind. I am paraphrasing, but it went something like this: “So many writers seem to think children want to read about Nature, but most of all, children want to read about children”.

A pang of guilt instantly swept through me, because I know am one of the writers guilty of that crime — if that is indeed what it is.

Of course I know that children want to read about children, and of course I do often write for children about children. But some of the time – much of the time – perhaps even too much of the time – I write for children about Nature.

So why do I do it?

The first and most obvious reason is that as a child I was introduced to the natural world – the beach, the sea, the forest, the mountains – and the birds and beasts that therein dwell, and loved it. So it is natural enough that I should wish to pass this love and appreciation on to the next generation.

Yet there is an even stronger urge to write about Nature for children, and it is this. So much of what I took for granted as a child is no longer available to children today and, on current trends, the situation will be even worse for the next generation. The reasons for this are complex, and I do not fully understand them all. Indeed, I doubt if anybody does.

The threats to wildlife seem to mount exponentially, and outstrip our ability to deal with them effectively. There was a time, for example, when it was considered sufficient to simply protect an area from development in order to protect the wildlife living there. Now, this is no longer enough. I heard recently of a national park in the Northern Territory (I think it was Kakadu) where wildlife numbers are falling in spite of what would appear to be adequate protective measures being in place.

Off the coast of British Columbia, orcas (killer whales) are no longer physically assaulted in any way (in the past they have been shot at by fishermen, and captured for public display), yet their numbers are falling. Furthermore, it is the young adults that are predominantly dying. It seems quite possible that humans are simply outcompeting orcas for salmon, causing them to suffer from malnutrition.

Across the face of the planet, human numbers continue to grow, and spread into new areas to live. Despite our best intentions, it would appear we are unable to protect animals from ourselves.

Dystopian visions of a world without animals and birds, perhaps with sophisticated robotic replacements, abound. Perhaps this is indeed the future that our children’s children’s children face.

Personally, I hate to think of a world without birdsong, without the blow of a whale, kangaroo footprints on the beach, or a wombat patiently making its way across a snowfield.

Anything that I can do to promote in the children of today a curiosity in and a love of the natural world I will do. I certainly don’t want to preach, but I do want to educate, and perhaps even inspire.

There may come a time when all that is left of the world’s fauna and flora is photographs and recordings, and references in poems, songs and stories. Until that time comes, though, I will continue to search for ways to pass on to the children of today my own sense of wonder and awe at the natural world. Of course, I will also continue to write about children for children.

© Stephen Whiteside   08.08.2014


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